Creativity and Spirituality with Joel McKerrow

Month: June, 2016

For those whose secrets weigh heavy…

It never begins with secrets. It begins with fear.

I remember Chinese whispers as a child. I am not sure why it was called this or whether such a name was one of those racist statements we all ignored back then. Like Indian Giver. Wherever it came from it was the whispering of a secret into the ear of another for that secret to then be passed around the circle until it returns again. Now changed. Now deformed. The loss of truth through the misheard and the misread. Everyone would laugh at the apparent miscommunication. I never did. It made me sad. Horrified. That we could misappropriate the message given us. I would always try to hear as clear as I could and pass on exactly what i was told. Feeling certain that we could do this without a mistake. It never worked. I didn’t realise then that this was simply the nature of secrets. They deform us and are deformed by us. They hide in the shadows of low speak. A hidden thing they change forms in the dark. The hushed places inside. Concealed. They are changed by us. They change us.


It never begins with secrets. It begins with fear.

A hunched back. He held himself crooked. Not how I remembered him at all. His spine was stronger than my own. Once. Back then. Reinforced. The kind of stare-anything-in-the-face backbone that I wished for. I would falter at the first sign of conflict, let alone standing tall before giants with bad breath and body odour. He never cowered. Not once. This is how I remember him. This is how I remember me. Much afraid. Uncertain.Trying so hard to be something. He already was something. And now I hate how reality shatters pedestals. How humans can be so…darn…human.

I placed my hands on his hunched back just to check. It was all true. The once impenetrable was now bent and broken. Weighed down. I had to know. Asked him for his story.

It never begins with secrets. It begins with fear.

He told me that a few years ago, and for many seasons before this, the pack on his back had held every secret he’d ever owned. Written on paper. Each one as light as a feather. It was just one and one more and one more. He did not realise that the longer they sat upon his back the heavier they became, until that which was once feather and frivolous was now brick and too hard to let go of. A hidden thing they changed forms in the dark. Chinese whispers. Deformed. He could not show anybody. Would not admit the weight he carried to himself let alone the loved ones. The secrets were a shame and the shame was a secret. A hidden thing. Changing form in the dark. Heavy now became the hushed places. Concealed. Weighted.

He could not speak them out. So he walked as far as he could away from people until he found a boat on the water. He was going to drop them into the river. Out in the water. He would drop them deep. Down into the murky waters. Down into the forgotten place. He would drop them and they would sink like lead if lead were made of secrets and no one would then know them and he would not have to carry them.

He could feel the weight. On his shoulders, the bag was so much bigger on the inside. He took a step into the boat, but the boat was broken. He did not care. It was leaking. This did not stop him. When something is once decided nothing can turn him from it. And sometimes we just need to run. Hide. Take ourselves away from the world and all its problems. Take ourselves away from ourselves and all our problems. He took himself away. Sure that his problems would not follow. He told himself that an expanse lay somewhere out ahead. Beyond this step. Beyond the suffocation. Beyond the incessant. Beyond the secrets.


He began to paddle. Away from the shore. Further away from the people and their prying eyes. But the secrets were heavier than he’d ever imagined and part way out they dragged the boat down. He was paddling but there was no use. Water washed over the top and began to fill the boat. It was cold. Like ice. He tried to lift the secrets, to get them out as quick as he may. He could no longer lift the bag. The water came quickly now. Too fast. It wrapped around him. Tightened his chest. Too cold. He could not breathe. He could not swim. He went down with the ship. With the secrets. Down into the dark. Down into the cold. This was not supposed to end like this. But it did.

The man stopped speaking. I asked him for more. He told me that there was no more. I could not believe this. I demanded that he tell me the ending. He told me that he did not know the ending. I looked at him shocked. His hair was wet. I had not noticed. So was his clothes. I had not noticed. His breath was spoken with mist on a morning not cold enough. He was shivering. I had not noticed. I was shivering. I had not noticed. I was finding it hard to breathe. I had not noticed. My hair was wet, I had not noticed. My clothes. I had not noticed. My back too heavy. I had not noticed. The mirror before me. I had not noticed. Didn’t recognise myself.

It never begins with secrets. It begins with fear.

They deform us.

They are deformed by us.

They hide in the shadows of low speak.

A hidden thing they change forms in the dark.

The hushed places inside. Concealed.

They are changed by us.

They change us.

He told me that he did not know the ending…



A letter for when the World is Weeping… (post-Orlando reflections)

Dear friends,

Let us gather. Let us wrap ourselves around the frailty of each other’s light. Hold ourselves as flames in the cold of each other’s loss and confusion. My hands have been frozen by the immensity of this. I need you. You need me. Let us gather.


This world is not an easy place to call home. It is not as friendly as we once hoped for, more broken than we were promised, it crumbles violent around the edges and I do not know what to do with this. How do you hold in your hand that which is falling apart?

Lightly. The answer is lightly. You hold it like feather. Like nest. Like only the birds know. Like parchment. A white knuckled holding to the way we demand it to be shall only schism us further. And haven’t we colonised enough already.

Let us not also colonise the way forward.

Please, do not start with opinions. Not from me or you or any of us. Instead may we start with mourning. A weeping at what is. To lament with those who suffer and not feel the need to qualify our position in the face of their sorrow. No more playing politics with people’s crushed lives. We are sorry Orlando. We are sorry Syria. We are sorry Paris. We are sorry Nauru. We are sorry Palestine. We are sorry Israel. We are sorry.


The art of lament. It is a choosing that our tribe has lost. The truth of an authentic non-denial has been replaced by cliche, greeting card responses, by a silent passivity. Lament, it is the refusal to stay silent in the harsh reality of lost hope. It is not a denial but an embrace of the sorrow that comes with our reality. We may be on the top decks, but the ship is still sinking.

So may lament find its voice inside you. May it break you open. The sorrow and the outrage. The loss. There is so much to be angry about. Do not deny the hot tears that fall from your eyes to stain the ground. Apathy is only ever born of passivity and entitlement. Lament forces us away from this apathy and into a wider field. We call it empathy and it hurts and it breaks and it moves us forward. It calls us into action and change.


So indeed may we weep. May our tears gather like rivers. May we feel their pain. May it become our own. May it stir us into action. May it unfold our lives into something larger than ourselves.

With everything,

Joel Michael McKerrow.

Throwing Stones in the River… (On prayer, fire, farts, duck poop and politicians).

My son throws stones into the river this morning like I throw hopes into the air every other morning.

I call them prayers. He calls them splats. Cause the water goes splat.

I sometimes wonder if my prayers do the same.


But the river holds the stones and the air holds the hopes and the sacred holds the prayers and the sun beats down on us both causing mist to smoke out of our noses and my son is overjoyed at the sight. He thinks I am on fire.

“Daddy fire. Daddy fire.” He is cheering and I am burning and the mist is rising and the river is flowing and an aeroplane flies overhead. I am slightly concerned he is so overjoyed at his daddy internally combusting, but I choose to ignore this.

I know I have been burning for a long time now and still have managed to not be snuffed out. A burning bush. My son is Moses. He is staring at my burning. I tell him that he shall set the people free. He agrees. Well, he contemplates this for a moment and then nods his head and says, “Bird poo.”  I take this as agreement. A confirmation of his mission in the world. To set the people free from the bird shit of their lives.

For he shall be called ‘Bird Shit Man’ and the people shall worship him for the way he cleans their skin and their porches and their statues. Like the statue of the stately man at the State Library that always has pigeon poop dripping down his cheeks. It messes with his decorum.


My son is throwing rocks at the ducks now. He takes his mission very seriously. He shall not just clean up bird poop he shall take on the source of the problem. The ducks themselves.

I decide I had better stop him before he actually hits one. He does not understand. He tells me he wants to set the people free. I tell him I think there is a less violent way to do so. He agrees. Well, he contemplates for a moment and says, “Daddy fart.”

It is true.

I did fart.

He is a smart child.

He stops throwing stones at the ducks and tries to make friends with them instead and I think to myself, if only it were so easy with the leaders of our world. When they misunderstand their mission and start throwing stones at others (insert any minority group or Arab country you’d like here), I wish I could take them throwing stones in the river with my son. I wish I could show them that its not nice to throw stones at ducks just like it is not nice to throw stones at people. I wish I could fart and they would think this is funny and they would forget all about the throwing of stones and they would try to make friends instead. Sometimes children are much easier to teach than presidents or prime-ministers.

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This is Poetry (Why I do What I do).

The boy can hardly look up from the page. He doesn’t want to remember that thirty eyes are staring at him, so he ignores them. Focusses on the tremor of paper in his earthquake hand. His right leg an uncontrollable jerking of muscle and bone. Sweat gathers on his brow though the room is still early morning cold. He slurs the words as they tumble from his mouth. No one cares. He hardly even makes sense at times. No one cares. This is poetry. It is one of the bravest performances I have ever seen.

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The boy launches into his story and I know it all too well. It is one I have heard countless times before. It is punches and names and harsh words and the inevitability of feeling small in the face of all the supposed ‘normal’ people. He pushes his story out of his mouth like it never belonged there in the first place. Like it wasn’t meant to be his story. Like somehow he always knew he was larger than the box that it held him in. Yet it seems only now that he is able to recognise this. So he recognises this. He is angry. Angry at them. Angry at the world. Angry at his condition. He is autistic. He tells us that his brain doesn’t quite work right. He tells us that he wants to be normal. He tells us of the countless times people felt it their prerogative to tell him that he wasn’t.

His story ends on a note of defiance. I picture a mouse staring into the face of a cat. Perhaps even scarface claw, the baddest cat from my sons picture book. I see the mouse stand up on two legs defiant and proud and with a bellow of a squeak from the mouse the cat looks shocked and surprisingly scared and suddenly bolts in the opposite direction. The boy finishes the poem about his life. His cat demons, they bolt in the opposite direction. The class is dead silent. It is a moment no one wanted to break. Something profound had just occurred and everyone in the class room knows this. It is tangible. Sacred.

The silence breaks. As if on cue. As if timed to perfection. Every single person erupts into a barrage of applause. The boy looks up from his paper confused. A mouse staring now into headlights. He is not sure what to do. Where to go. So he just stands there and a huge smile breaks through. Ear to ear. He smiles wide and the class love this all the more and they cheer even louder and I stand at the back of the room and everything that I do becomes worthwhile once more. This is poetry.


The teacher tells me that the boy does not write in class. He does not participate. Not like this. This is unheard of. That he crafted his whole story into a poem and stood out the front of the class in this all-boys school and delivered it like this. This is a miracle. This is poetry.

The boy tells me that he has never told anybody his story in his life before. He has not told people of the years of bullying at previous schools. He has not told people of his fight for a normal life in the face of his autism. I tell him just how brave I think he is. I tell him that others need to hear his story. He agrees. The bell goes. He walks out of the room and I never see him again. This is poetry. This is my life. School after school after school. Story after story after story. Lame metaphor after cliched simile after just another rhyming couplet. And I love it all.

There is a rush that comes with standing naked (metaphorically) on a stage and bearing your soul to the world. There is a rush and a catharsis and a healing and a feeling like you could do anything. This is nothing compared to the moment when you see a kid you have been helping to find their words step-up and breakthrough like this boy did. It pales in comparison. This is poetry.

I remember the girl who wept at her Christian school friends for how they treated gay people. I remember the Year 11 boy who broke down as he told his all-boy macho classmates about his mothers condition. I remember the girl who told us of her rape. I remember the scared one who couldn’t even look up at me when we began and as we finished a few days later she was literally screaming her poem to the world. I remember the one with pink hair and poetic words that trampled upon my own. I remember the tears from so many teenagers pooling heavy upon the floor. I remember so many moments when the silence came. When a rowdy class of Year 8’s are brought mute in the face of their classmates bravery and vulnerability. I remember the breakthroughs. I remember the defiance. I remember the steel-toothed determination. I remember it all. I remember the tears that I have cried as I listen to story after story after story.

This is poetry.

This is why I do what I do.

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